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Today, Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) is revered as one of the greatest composers of all time whose multitudinous compositions, with their combination of  intellectual rigor and transcendent beauty, are among the foundational documents of Western art music.  In his day, J.S. Bach was seen as a church musician who dazzled his contemporaries with his organ playing and churned out new compositions with almost alarming speed and frequency.  Though he was well-known and widely respected, he was not revered as he is now.  His reputation received a facelift in the early 19th century (long after his death) with the publication of a biography in 1802, the revival of his Saint Matthew’s Passion by the composer Felix Mendelssohn in 1829, and ultimately the creation of the Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis (Bach Works Catalog) in 1850.  Since then, Bach’s legacy has only grown.  Among his famous compositions are the Brandenburg Concertos, the Cello Suites, the Well-Tempered Clavier, the Art of Fugue, hundreds of cantatas and oratorios, and dozens of short chorales.  And that is but the tip of the iceberg.  Bach has over 1000 known compositions, and perhaps as many that have been lost forever.

Other interesting Bach facts:

  • He was a genuine patriarch, fathering 20 children (10 of whom survived to adulthood) with 2 successive wives.  See the family tree.
  • Several of his children became famous composers in their own right, most notably Johann Christian Bach and Carl Philip Emanuel Bach.
  • There are streets all over Germany named for Bach, although he never left the country and never lived more than 250 miles from his birthplace in Eisenach.  See the map.
  • He was once put in prison by an employer who didn’t want to let him move jobs.
  • He wrote a cantata about coffee addiction.  Read about it here.
  • Finally, Anthony Tommasini recently named Bach the greatest composer of all time.

Carter Pann is a celebrated composer in his own right who has written music from solo works to large orchestra and wind ensemble pieces.  He is on the faculty of the University of Colorado at Boulder, where he continues to write distinctly original music.  He is also a practiced arranger.  He assembled the 18 transcriptions that form the Bach Buch in 2010 for a unique ensemble: it is essentially a harmoniemusik ensemble with saxophones instead of horns.  He describes the collection in its score:

The music of Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) is a gift.  Nearly every piece that poured out of this man is as inspired and perfected as the next.  His body of work has cut a deep incision in the recorded history of music and set a benchmark to which all the contrapuntal masters who followed have aspired to meet.

The transcriptions found within this volume add to the thousands upon thousands of versions of his music already re-worked for different groups and media.  The music here does not, however, embellish Bach’s own scores (save but for a couple of instances in which it was felt necessary to add an inner voice to serve the expansive range of the ten woodwinds).  The selections are ordered (loosely) to assume a smooth, inclined trajectory of both difficulty and musical breadth.  The first piece is a small and simple minuet, the last is a long interior movement of one of the most beloved and advanced violin concertos in the whole repertoire.

As a keyboard player I grew up learning and falling in love with much of Bach’s music at the piano.  For this very reason, much of this volume consists of the composer’s keyboard works.  One cannot, however, deny many of the most cherished works from Bach’s oeuvre when compiling a set of transcriptions, and many of those “hits” are included here as well.

Departing from the traditional harmoniemusik ensemble, I have replaced the horns here with saxophones.  There are two reasons: 1) the nature of much of this music requires instruments with an ease of agility not executable so readily on the horn; and 2) the opportunity for saxophone players to be included in such an ensemble was very attractive, pedagogically.

I hope you enjoy these gems from such a great genius.

With the full collection clocking in at 48 minutes, the set is ideal for excerpting.  Below, I will present brief descriptions of each piece along with one representative video of the original version.  Since this collection is relatively new, no recordings of it have made their way onto the internet just yet.  Perhaps that will eventually change.  For now, you can view the entire score here.

1. The set opens with Menuet II from keyboard Partita no. 1 (BWV 825).  This was part of a suite for harpsichord written around 1725.  Here it is on the (upright!) harpsichord.  Skip to about the 15 minute marker for Menuet II:

2. The second piece is one of the two-part inventions, the sixth of the set, written between 1717 and 1723.  Originally in E major, Pann transposed it to F major.  Here is Glenn Gould playing it on the piano:

3. Prelude no. 9 from the Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 1 (BWV 854), written in 1722.  Several of the other movements come from either of the two WTC books as well.  Again, Pann transposes this one from E major into E-flat major.

4. The fourth miniature uses the second prelude from WTC, Book 2 (BWV 871), written in 1742.  It is in C minor.  Here it is, with a little history lesson in front:

5. Prelude no. 18 from WTC, Book 1 (BWV 863), transposed from G-sharp minor to G minor:

6. Praeludium from Keyboard Partita no. 1 (BWV 825):

7. Prelude no. 12 in F minor from WTC, Book 2 (BWV 881):

8. Prelude no. 22 in B-flat minor from WTC, Book 1 (BWV 867):

9. Fugue no. 7 in E-flat major from WTC, Book 2 (BWV 876).  The video in no way uses authentic Bach-era instruments, but it does powerfully and clearly demonstrate the line of each voice in the fugue:

10. Fugue no. 21 in B-flat major from WTC, Book 1 (BWV 866).  This video follows Bach’s original manuscript as the fugue unfolds:

11. Variation 18 (Canon at the Sixth) from the Goldberg Variations (BWV 988), written in 1741.  The video has six different performances of the same variation (plus some very worthwhile “bonus tracks” at the end), all with different interpretive decisions:

12. Sarabande from Overture in the French Manner (BWV 831), written in 1735.  There are many different ideas about the tempo for this one, so please do not accept the following video as the one and only solution:

13. Badinerie (which, like Scherzo, translates as “jesting”) from Orchestral Suite no. 2 (BWV 1067), written from 1738-9.  This piece has been a central part of the flute repertoire for centuries.  As the title makes clear, it was originally written for orchestra.  Here is a performance on period instruments:

14. Chorale: “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” from Cantata (BWV 147), written in 1723.  In German, the title is “Jesus, bleibet meine Freude”, which translates less poetically as “Jesus remains my joy.”  The video features a fairly authentic sounding orchestra with a large chorus singing in German:

15. Chorale Prelude: “Nun fruet euch, lieben Christen g’mein” (BWV 734), originally written for organ in 1708:

16. Air (on the G String) from Orchestral Suite no. 3 (BWV 1068), from 1730:

17. Chorale: “Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme” from Cantata (BWV 140), also known as “Sleepers Wake”, from 1731.  This is a “gap chorale”, with the actual chorale melody interrupted separated by other material, which dominates the work:

18. Concerto for Two Violins, II. Largo ma non tanto (BWV 1043), written sometime between 1717 and 1723:

If you made it this far, you deserve some Bach bonus links.  Here he is on wikipedia, his own home page, Dave’s J. S. Bach page, and Facebook.  And that just barely scratches the surface!

Carmina Burana is the iconic secular work for chorus and orchestra.  It’s opening and closing moments have been used in countless films and commercials – they make any situation sound epic.  The texts come from a collection of 12th- and 13th-century poems of the same name.  Although they were found in a Benedictine monastery at Beuern, Bavaria (the title translates as “Songs of Beuern”), they deal exclusively with secular subjects, from the unpredictability of fortune to the moral failings of the Catholic Church of the time to a catalog of all the people who drink (hint: everyone).  They were written by the Goliards, a group of vagrant students, clergy, and poets who satirized the church through their writings.  German composer Carl Orff (1895-1982) discovered the poems for himself in 1934 and spent the next two years setting 24 of them to music.  The result was so successful that Orff wrote to his publisher: “Everything I have written to date, and which you have, unfortunately, printed, can be destroyed. With Carmina Burana, my collected works begin.”

Seiji Ozawa conducts the Berlin Philharmonic in a 1989 performance:

So, what business does this piece have being in a wind band blog?  In 1967, John Krance took the choral/orchestral work and, with the composer’s enthusiastic blessing, transcribed a big chunk of it (12 movements) for band, incorporating the vocal parts into the instrumentation.  It works spectacularly well, as proven by this performance of Jerry Junkin conducting the 2011 California All-State band:

The wind ensemble version allows for movements to be selected out for a shorter program.  This year in the Columbia Wind Ensemble (at the request of senior trumpeter and Festival guru Thomas Callander ’13), we are doing the following:

1. O Fortuna (just the famous intro)

2. Fortune plango vulnera:

6. Were diu werlt alle min

10. In trutina
13. Fortuna Imperatrix Mundi

Carl Orff is famous in the world of music education as well, where his Orff Schulwerk method of teaching children music remains hugely influential.  Read more about him at his own very informative and up to date website, Wikipedia, Naxos, and, for something slightly more probing and political, look at this article about music and the Holocaust as it relates to him.

There is no shortage of Internet material about Carmina Burana.  Read on Wikipedia about the texts and the music.  NPR has a piece from 2006 about why it’s still so popular.  This article has links to the texts of all of the poems that Orff used.  Dr. John Magnum wrote extensive program notes on the piece for the Hollywood Bowl.  Similar to the piece listed above, WQXR classical radio did a piece about Carmina Burana‘s connection to Nazi GermanyThis article deals exclusively with the text and its origins.  There are many different ballet versions of the piece.  There is an entire Wikiepdia article just about the opening movement, “O Fortuna”, in popular culture.  One of my favorites:

Finally, if you’ve read this far, you might as well hear my favorite Carmina Burana joke (although you may not like it):

(sung to the tune of Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off):
I say Carmina, you say Carmana,
I say Burina, you say Burana,
Carmina, Carmana, Burina, Burana,
Let’s Carl the whole thing Orff.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.  And I can’t take full credit for this one: I first heard it from my Dartmouth classmate, now an operatic soprano, Laura Choi Stuart.

Kurt Weill (1900-1950) was a German composer whose musical theatre works have come to exemplify the Weimar Republic period in Germany.  He was born in Dessau to Jewish parents.  By World War I, when he was a teenager, he was a professional theatre accompanist.  He studied composition in Berlin, composing standard instrumental fare like tone poems and an orchestral suite.  In the 1920s, he began to make his mark on German music with theatrical pieces that played with American dance rhythms.  In many of these works he collaborated with the writer and political activist Bertolt Brecht.  His fortunes turned sour in the early 1930s, as the new Nazi regime ramped up a propaganda campaign against his popular, politically subversive works.  He fled first to Paris in 1933, then to the United States in 1935.  In America, he continued his successful career as a music theatre composer, collaborating with Ira Gershwin and Langston Hughes, among others.  He was still active on the Broadway scene when he died of a heart attack at age 50.

One of Weill’s most famous pieces was Die Dreigroschenoper (The Threepenny Opera).  He wrote the music in 1928 to words by Bertolt Brecht, based on The Beggar’s Opera by John Gay.  It tells the story of Macheath (Mack the Knife), a murderer in Victorian London.  In the spirit of the Weimar Republic, it also lampooned German society and capitalism.  It was one of the most popular works of the period: within five years, it had been translated into 18 languages and performed more than 10,000 times in Europe.  It had also attracted the attention of the serious music establishment in Germany.  Just four months after its premiere, conductor Otto Klemperer commissioned Weill to create a concert suite from the opera in the tradition of opera suites for winds from Mozart’s day.  Titled Little Threepenny Music (Kleine Dreigroschenmusik), Weill’s suite retains all of the unique character of the opera, with instrumentation that includes saxophones, a rudimentary drum set, and combination of guitar, banjo, and bandoneon among the more traditional wind instruments.  He even added some musical material, presumably because the original opera was written for actors who happened to sing rather than trained singers.  The suite comes in 8 movements:

I. Overture
II. The Moritat of Mack the Knife
III. The Instead-of Song
IV. The Ballad of the Easy Life
V. Polly’s Song
Va. Tango
VI. Cannon Song
VII. Threepenny Finale

The Ball State University Wind Ensemble plays the whole suite, bandoneon and all:

The number “Mack the Knife” took on a life of its own as a jazz standard and pop song with worldwide popularity that persists today.  Louis Armstrong is among the many renowned musicians to have recorded a version of the song:

I have to admit, when I think of Kleine Dreigroschenmusik, I can’t help but think of this:

And this:

both of which were certainly influenced by Weill’s work.

Read up on Kurt Weill on Wikipedia and the Kurt Weill Foundation for Music.  More info on The Threepenny Opera can be found at Wikipedia and its own website, run by the same Kurt Weill Foundation.  There is also a great entry on Little Threepenny Music at the Wind Repertory Project.

David Del Tredici (b. 1937) is a Pulitzer Prize-winning American composer whose works range from intimate piano sonatas and string quartets to giant orchestral and choral epics.  Born in California, he now resides in New York City, where he is a Distinguished Professor of Music at The City College of New York.  His composition career has gone through phases: he showed an early interest in setting the poetry of James Joyce, moved on to a decade-long obsession with Lewis Carroll‘s Alice in Wonderland, and has spent recent years creating settings of gay American poets.  He has won praise and accolades throughout his career, including from Aaron Copland, who said (according to Del Tredici’s website) that he “is that rare find among composers — a creator with a truly original gift. I venture to say that his music is certain to make a lasting impression on the American musical scene. I know of no other composer of his generation who composes music of greater freshness and daring, or with more personality.”  He has also been recognized twice by OUT magazine as a person of the year.

Acrostic Song originates from Del Tredici’s Alice period.  It is the last aria in Final Alice, an epic series of arias and dramatic episodes that tells the story of the final chapters in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.  The Acrostic Song uses a seven-verse acrostic poem that Carroll wrote based on the real Alice‘s name: Alice Pleasance Liddell.  Del Tredici sets it with all the simplicity and regularity of the poem, preserving the simple, three-line stanzas in the musical phrasing.  The result is a profound musical experience wrapped in deceptively simple and familiar musical trappings.

A band in Texas performs the Acrostic Song as arranged (at the composer’s request) by Mark Spede:

Here is the Detroit Symphony Orchestra performing the Acrostic Song in its original from with soprano Hila Plitmann (yes, that’s Eric Whitacre‘s wife).  Note: the form is largely the same as the band version, but it’s in a different key.  And the ending veers off in an entirely different direction:

On February 18, 2013 David Del Tredici came to a Columbia Wind Ensemble rehearsal to hear us play through the Acrostic Song.  It was his first time hearing the arrangement live.  We ended up working through the entire arrangement bit by bit, making several changes along the way, thus creating sort an ur-text edition of the arrangement.  Those changes are listed below.

Changes to Spede arrangement of Acrostic Song:
m. 1: cresc.
m. 2: dim.
m. 3: cresc.
m. 4: dim.
m. 7: cresc.
m. 8: dim.
m. 9: cresc.
m. 10: dim.
mm.13-16 oboes rest
End of m. 18: no breath mark, connect right into m. 19
mm. 19-20: oboes rest
m. 24-25: no breath
m. 40: oboes rest, all flutes on G
mm. 47-53: all flutes play 1st part, 1 clarinet 1 8va (all others as written)
m. 53: PIU Mosso
mm. 57-60: molto molto accel to quarter=160 in m. 61, then rit.
m. 72: trombone 2 on C (2nd space), trombone 1 on G (top space), horn 2 on written G (2nd line), horn 1 on written D (4th line), ALL OTHERS REST
m. 75: subito piu mosso, anyone with 8ths dynamic should be ff
m. 82: add suspended cymbal roll starting pp, cresc. for beats 1 & 2, dim. for beats 3&4, release on downbeat of m. 83
m. 83: all winds and brass who played in 82 sustain whole note through 83

The performance, with some introduction:

There is so much extra material out there on Final Alice, including hugely extensive program notes from the Kennedy Center, a review of the definitive recording, Del Tredici’s own notes at Boosey & Hawkes, and a tribute by Stephen Brookes of the Washington Post.  For the curious (and curiouser), here is Carroll’s original poem, “A boat beneath a sunny sky”:

A boat, beneath a sunny sky
Lingering onward dreamily
In an evening of July—

Children three that nestle near,
Eager eye and willing ear,
Pleased a simple tale to hear—

Long has paled that sunny sky:
Echoes fade and memories die:
Autumn frosts have slain July.

Still she haunts me, phantomwise,
Alice moving under skies
Never seen by waking eyes.

Children yet, the tale to hear,
Eager eye and willing ear,
Lovingly shall nestle near.

In a Wonderland they lie,
Dreaming as the days go by,
Dreaming as the summers die:

Ever drifting down the stream—
Lingering in the golden gleam—
Life, what is it but a dream?

Iowa native Reber Clark (b. 1955) has made his name as a trumpeter, composer, and arranger in many different musical genres.  He set the traditional French Hymn of St. James for band sometime before 1998 as a pet project.  According to Clark:

Hymn of St. James is a composition for band based on the hymn, “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence” from the Liturgy of St. James (4th Century) translated from Greek to English by Gerard Moultrie, 1864, which is set to a traditional 17th century French carol melody.

Over the years, many people have asked me about the origin of this work.  I was raised in the Episcopal Church and this was one of a very few hymns that fascinated me from a very early age.  The melody always haunted me and, having the opportunity to write a piece completely unfettered by money or time constraints, I decided to utilize this childhood memory.

The setting depicts the words of each verse of the hymn. The melody is played in its entirety four times and is descriptive of the hymn’s four verses.
The two-bar marimba solo at the beginning represents silence.
The first time the melody is played it is descriptive of the hymn’s first verse.  The strong tertian first statement is concrete and straightforward as the first verse is strong and firm in its faith.
The tonal ambiguity of the second statement suggest (sic) the paradoxical, mysterious poetry of the second verse: “King of kings, yet born of Mary”, “Lord of lords in human vesture”, etc.
The militaristic style of the third statement describes the “host of heaven” and at Circle 94 the cluster that fades in an A major chord coincides with the lyric: “as the darkness clears away.”
The fourth, and last , statement’s attempt at a “celestial” quality coincides with the fourths (sic) verse’s celestial descriptions.
The key of the original hymn is D minor, or possibly D aeolian, but six measures from the end a D major chord was chosen to signify the inevitability of good. Tritones, 6 before the end, question all that has come before, with a final answer given on the final D major eighth note.

Watch Peter Boonshaft and the Austin All-City Band play Hymn of St. James.  For some comic relief, listen to the audience comments as it goes on:

The choir version as sung by the choir at Kings College, Cambridge:

Read up on Clark’s band setting of Hymn of St. James at C. Alan Publications and Reber Clark’s blog  You can find out more about the original hymn at the Center for Church Music.  The version of the lyrics that Clark used are as follows:

Let all mortal flesh keep silence,
And with fear and trembling stand;
Ponder nothing earthly minded,
For with blessing in His hand,
Christ our God to earth descendeth,
Our full homage to demand.

King of kings, yet born of Mary,
As of old on earth He stood,
Lord of lords, in human vesture,
In the body and the blood;
He will give to all the faithful
His own self for heavenly food.

Rank on rank the host of heaven
Spreads its vanguard on the way,
As the Light of light descendeth
From the realms of endless day,
That the powers of hell may vanish
As the darkness clears away.

At His feet the six wingèd seraph,
Cherubim with sleepless eye,
Veil their faces to the presence,
As with ceaseless voice they cry:
Alleluia, Alleluia
Alleluia, Lord Most High!

Reber Clark has a bio at C. Alan Publications, a website devoted to his music, and a blog which is mostly devoted to his thoughts about new movies.

Angels in the Architecture is a BIG piece!  Frank Ticheli has pulled out all the stops and created something massive.  Truly, this piece was meant for massed bands, but it certainly works for a single ensemble as well.  Ticheli himself describes it best:

Angels in the Architecture was commissioned by Kingsway International, and received its premiere performance at the Sydney Opera House on July 6, 2008 by a massed band of young musicians from Australia and the United States, conducted by Matthew George.  The work unfolds as a dramatic conflict between the two extremes of human existence–one divine, the other evil.

The work’s title is inspired by the Sydney Opera House itself, with its halo-shaped acoustical ornaments hanging directly above the performance stage.

Angels in the Architecture  begins with a single voice singing a 19th-century Shaker song:

I am an angel of Light
I have soared from above
I am cloth’d with Mother’s love.
I have come, I have come,
To protect my chosen band
And lead them to the promised land.

This “angel”–represented by the singer–frames the work, surrounding it with a protective wall of light and establishing the divine.  Other representations of light–played by instruments rather than sung–include a traditional Hebrew song of peace (“Hevenu Shalom Aleicham”) and the well-known 16th-century Genevan Psalter, “Old Hundredth.”  These three borrowed songs, despite their varied religious origins, are meant to transcend any one religion, representing the more universal human ideals of peace, hope, and love. An original chorale, appearing twice in the work, represents my own personal expression of these aspirations.

In opposition, turbulent, fast-paced music appears as a symbol of darkness, death, and spiritual doubt.  Twice during the musical drama, these shadows sneak in almost unnoticeably, slowly obscuring, and eventually obliterating the light altogether.  The darkness prevails for long stretches of time, but the light always returns, inextinguishable, more powerful than before.  The alternation of these opposing forces creates, in effect, a kind of five-part rondo form (light–darkness–light–darkness–light).

Just as Charles Ives did more than century ago, Angels in the Architecture poses the unanswered question of existence.  It ends as it began: the angel reappears singing the same comforting words.  But deep below, a final shadow reappears–distantly, ominously.

Take a good listen – you’ll catch the dark vs. light contrasts pretty easily:

Now let’s unpack that program note a bit: first, click here for a look at the iconic Sydney Opera House.

Ticheli mentions Charles Ives – he is referring to Ives’s piece The Unanswered Question for strings, woodwinds, and trumpet solo.  In it, the trumpet solo repeats a question which the woodwinds toil to answer without success.  Meanwhile, the strings go about their business, seemingly oblivious to the exchange between the trumpet and woodwinds.  In the end, the trumpet gets no answer.  It’s worth a listen (and the video lets you follow along in the score!):

Finally, you can (and should!) read more about Ticheli’s chosen source material: “I am an angel of Light” is described above.  “Hevenu Shalom Aleichem” is little more than its title, but sends a message of peace.  “Old Hundredth” is one of the world’s most famous hymns.

Ticheli’s publisher hosts a complete, downloadable set of mp3s of the vast majority of his large ensemble music on their website – quite a find!

Frank Ticheli’s personal website, Frankticheli.com.

Ticheli bio on wikipedia.

Frank Ticheli’s Facebook fanclub.

A video interview with Ticheli in which he talks about composing.

This big, big piece will be conducted by Berkley Todd, Columbia class of 2012.

For those who have forgotten, here’s my short bio on Frank Ticheli: Educated at the University of Michigan, composer Frank Ticheli (b. 1958) has become one of the biggest names in new wind band repertoire.  Since 1991 he has been a Professor of Composition USC-Thornton and, until 1998, Composer in Residence of the Pacific Symphony.  The recipient of many awards, he was most recently winner of the 2006 NBA/William D. Revelli Memorial Band Composition Contest for his Symphony No. 2.

This fall in CUWE, we’re doing another one of Eric Whitacre’s slow pieces.  It’s hard not to – they’re uniformly gorgeous, and they’re incredibly useful for  addressing ensemble issues like tone, intonation, blend, balance, and just plain sound.  This time around, it’s Lux Aurumque – that’s Latin for “Light and Gold”.

Eric Whitacre is one of the most-performed composers of his generation.  Born in 1970, he studied composition at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and the Juilliard School with notable composers including John Corigliano and David Diamond.  His choral works and band works have rapidly become accepted in the repertoire due to their strong appeal to audiences and players alike.  In addition to composing, Whitacre tours the world as a conductor of his own works.

Whitacre is quite web-savvy:

Eric Whitacre on Facebook.

Eric Whitacre on MySpace.  If you watch the video on either of these, he says how he’s overwhelmed with fan mail.

Eric Whitacre on WikiMusicGuide (better than Wikipedia in this case), including complete works list.

Eric Whitacre’s blog.

EricWhitacre.com.

Whitacre even writes his own program notes!  Here they are for Lux Aurumque:

Lux Aurumque began its life as an a cappella choral work that I wrote in the fall of 2000.  When the Texas Music Educators Association and a consortium of bands commissioned me to adapt it for symphonic winds, I rewrote the climax and included the grand “Bliss” theme from my my opera Paradise Lost.

Lux Aurumque received its premiere at the 2005 conference of the Texas Music Educators Association, and is dedicated with deep admiration for my dear friend Gary Green.

This note deserves a little further explanation.  First, Gary Green is the director of bands at the University of Miami, and one of the top conductors of bands in the world.  I had the pleasure of working with him as a trumpeter in the 2001 New England Intercollegiate Band, so I can testify to his greatness.  His recording of this is on YouTube, and it shows his full expressive power:

For those who are counting, he takes Lux Aurumque’s 54 measures of 4/4 and extends them past 6 minutes.  That’s an average of 36 beats per minute!!  But it doesn’t plod – it pulls at the heartstrings at every instant!

The choral version is informative for understanding how the band version came to be.  It’s set a half-step higher (that’s C-sharp minor at the opening) for mixed chorus (SATB, divided), and as Whitacre alludes in his program notes, the climax is different from that in the band version.  It helped make Whitacre (and soprano Melody Myers, see about 1:00 in) famous, with this “Virtual Choir” video:

You can see Whitacre talk about this in a TED Talk (best free internet series ever):

Finally, a live performance of the choral version:

The lyrics are:

Lux,
calida gravisque pura velut aurum
et canunt angeli molliter
modo natum.

That’s a direct translation TO Latin from a poem by Edward Esch:

Light,
warm and heavy as pure gold
and the angels sing softly
to the new-born baby.

Today, Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) is revered as one of the greatest composers of all time whose multitudinous compositions, with their combination of  intellectual rigor and transcendent beauty, are among the foundational documents of Western art music.  In his day, J.S. Bach was seen as a church musician who dazzled his contemporaries with his organ playing and churned out new compositions with almost alarming speed and frequency.  Though he was well-known and widely respected, he was not revered as he is now.  His reputation received a facelift in the early 19th century (long after his death) with the publication of a biography in 1802, the revival of his Saint Matthew’s Passion by the composer Felix Mendelssohn in 1829, and ultimately the creation of the Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis (Bach Works Catalog) in 1850.  Since then, Bach’s legacy has only grown.  Among his famous compositions are the Brandenburg Concertos, the Cello Suites, the Well-Tempered Clavier, the Art of Fugue, hundreds of cantatas and oratorios, and dozens of short chorales.  And that is but the tip of the iceberg.  Bach has over 1000 known compositions, and perhaps as many that have been lost forever.

Other interesting Bach facts:

  • He was a genuine patriarch, fathering 20 children (10 of whom survived to adulthood) with 2 successive wives.  See the family tree.
  • Several of his children became famous composers in their own right, most notably Johann Christian Bach and Carl Philip Emanuel Bach.
  • There are streets all over Germany named for Bach, although he never left the country and never lived more than 250 miles from his birthplace in Eisenach.  See the map.
  • He was once put in prison by an employer who didn’t want to let him move jobs.
  • He wrote a cantata about coffee addiction.  Read about it here.
  • Finally, Anthony Tommasini recently named Bach the greatest composer of all time.

“Komm, süsser tod” (Come, Sweet Death) is often counted among the chorales.  But it was originally published for solo voice and basso continuo as a set of 69 songs that Bach contributed to a collection in 1736.  Harmonic shortcuts aside, it follows the basic form of many of the chorales, with several short phrases separated by fermatas, and considerable harmonic rigor: each of the 12 chromatic tones gets intelligently used at some point in the 21-measure song.  Having been written with no particular instrumentation indicated, “Komm, süsser tod” has been performed and arranged in many different guises, including symphony orchestra, voice and organ, mixed choir, concert band, and just about every other imaginable combination.  Here are my favorite 2 performances from YouTube:

Leopold Stokowski’s moving orchestra transcription:

Klaus Martens sings while Ton Koopman plays:

Alas, the wind band recordings of this don’t do it justice.  They all take it way too fast, and aren’t as rigorously attentive to intonation as they need to be.  Perhaps this will change some day.

Finally, for those of you who have gotten this far, there are a whole bunch more links to check out!

“Komm, süsser tod” has its own wikipedia page which includes the original German lyrics and an English translation.  Well worth a look – it’s downright cheery!  Also very worth a look is the original publication of “Komm, süsser tod“.  The vocal line is in soprano clef (C is the bottom line of the staff), and the bass line uses figured bass.  But if you can navigate those, you’ll find it to be a great, authentic resource.

J. S. Bach on wikipedia, his own home page, Dave’s J. S. Bach page, and Facebook.  And that just barely scratches the surface!

Let’s not forget about Alfred Reed, the arranger of the wind band version in question.  Read his bio and more at the page for one of his great compositions, The Hounds of Spring.

Alfred Reed (1921-2005) was born in New York City.  He studied composition at the Juilliard School with Vittorio Giannini after a tour in the US Air Force during World War II.  He was later a staff arranger for NBC in the 1950s and a professor of music at Miami University from 1966 to 1993.  He is remembered today as a distinguished educator, conductor, and composer.  His impact was the greatest in the wind band world, where he left behind more than 100 frequently performed works.  He was particularly popular in Japan, where he developed a close relationship with the Tokyo Kosei Wind Orchestra, and where many of his works are required literature for all bands.

Alfred Reed biography at C. L. Barnhouse music publishing.

The Hounds of Spring was inspired by the poem Atlanta in Calydon by Algernon Charles Swinburne.  Reed quotes it and describes the inspiration it gave him in his own program notes on the piece:

When the hounds of spring are on winter’s traces,
The mother of months in meadow or plain
Fills the shadows and windy places
With lisp of leaves and ripple of rain

And soft as lips that laugh and hide
The laughing leaves of the trees divide,
And screen from seeing and leave in sight
The god pursuing, the maiden hid.

Algernon Charles Swinburne
Atlanta in Calydon

Program Notes

When the hounds of spring are on winter’s traces,” a magical picture of young love in springtime, forms the basis for the present purely musical setting, in traditional three-part overture form, of this lovely paean… an attempt to capture the twin elements of the poem, exuberant youthful gaiety and the sweetness of tender love, in an appropriate musical texture.
The poem, a recreation in modern English of an ancient Greek tragedy, appeared in print in 1865, when the poet was 28 years old.  It made Algernon Swinburne literally an overnight success.
The Hounds of Spring was commissioned by, and is dedicated to, the John L. Forster Secondary School Symphonic Band of Windsor, Ontario, and its director, Gerald A.N. Brown.  The first performance took place in Windsor on May 8th, 1980, by the aforementioned group, under the direction of the composer.

The full text of Atlanta in Calydon.

An anonymous band plays The Hounds of Spring on Youtube:

This piece is a senior selection for trumpeter and scholar Aaron Liskov.

Charles Ives (1874-1954) was a composer and businessman from Danbury, Connecticut. He never made his living from his compositions, instead making a fortune in life insurance.  The unusual nature of this dual life paralleled his music, which not only defied but brazenly toppled the conventions of his era.  For instance, it is at times bitonal, often disjointed, and occassionally reflects the sound of two musical ensembles playing at the same time at a distance from each other. Ives’s music was largely ignored by all but a precious few fans during his lifetime.  However, his receipt of the Pulitzer Prize in 1947 for his Symphony no. 3 made the music world begin to take him seriously.  He has posthumously attained a reputation as among the finest of all American composers of all time.

Ives scholar Jan Swafford summarizes Ives’s influence and importance thusly:

For all his singularity, the Yankee maverick Charles Ives is among the most representative of American artists. Optimistic, idealistic, fiercely democratic, he unified the voice of the American people with the forms and traditions of European classical music. The result, in his most far-reaching work, is like nothing ever imagined before him: music at once unique and as familiar as a tune whistled in childhood, music that can conjure up the pandemonium of a small-town Fourth of July or the quiet of a New England church, music of visionary spirituality built from the humblest materials–an old gospel hymn, a patriotic tune, a sentimental parlor song. The way in which Ives pursued his goal of a democratic art, and his career of creating at the highest level of ambition while making a fortune in the life insurance business, perhaps could only have happened in the United States. And perhaps only there could such an isolated, paradoxical figure make himself into a major artist.

This is just the beginning of Swafford’s fabulous short biographical essay on Ives, which can be found here.

Swafford’s essay is just a taste of the treasure trove of information available at the Charles Ives Society website.

More on Ives from Wikipedia.

Biography with a link to an essay about the influence of Ives’s father, George, a local bandmaster.

One more biographical essay from essentialsofmusic.com

Ives wrote Variations on America at age 17 when he was the organist for a local church.  Despite its early origin, it still contains many characteristics of the Ives sound: unapologetic bitonality, themes of patriotism, some sense of playfulness and optimism.  American composer and Lincoln Center president William Schuman transcribed the original organ work for orchestra in 1962, after which it was transcribed for band in short order by William Rhoads.

A concise program note on the orchestral version.

The University of Michigan Concert Band plays Variations on America.

The original organ version performed by flamboyant organ virtuoso Virgil Fox: